Jun 292014
 

Tomato-watermelon salad

It’s summer and peak tomato season is nearing, which means one thing for sure: I am soon to be entirely in the grip of Tomato Madness.

I wait all year for tomato season to roll around, abstaining from buying those cardboard-like, sprayed-with-ethylene-gas-to-make-them-turn-orange facsimile tomatoes through the cold months, biding my time until the (swoon!) heirlooms show up in the farmers’ markets. (I grow a paltry number of them at home but am not yet proficient enough at it to satisfy my appetite for the fruit.) They’re beautiful, aromatic, colored all the way through, and the taste? Unlike any tomato you’ll find in a grocery store.

The inevitable result of this is a tomato binge in the summertime. One weekend last August, our trip to the market yielded just such a thing: in addition to the 2-3-ish pounds I already had in the house, I came home with 6 pounds of my all-time favorite Black Krims (gazpacho, anyone?), along with a whopping 1.75-pound Gold Medal tomato that my favorite farmer gifted me when he saw me going crazy on the Krims (for they are his favorite too), figuring that he’d never be able to sell it because it was so huge. Seriously, the thing was as big as The Wee Baby Om-Nom Sauce’s head.

Huuuuuuuge tomato!

Huuuuuuuge tomato!

(Oh, and speaking of Krims: I had a plant in my back yard last summer and I got so excited at one point because I had two beautiful tomatoes on it that were just a few days away from ripeness. I went out there one morning and they were gone. I’m not going to blame the squirrels, or the bunnies, or the birds, or the odd deer that comes through the neighborhood, because I suspect that the culprit was THE DOG. She developed a taste for tomatoes when I was growing black cherry tomatoes in Tucson and I haven’t been able to break her of it: I catch her with MY harvest now and then. And this year? A bunny came through and ate two of my five tomato plants — that’s right, not tomatoes, but the plants. But I digress.)

I came home and immediately busied myself with making my favorite soup (because if cherry-pie-making-day is Mr Om-Nom Sauce’s favorite day of summer, then surely mine is the one when I make gazpacho), but upon finishing that, I had to face the (1.75-pound) elephant in the room: what to do with the Gold Medal? I sifted through lots of ideas in my head and finally settled upon re-making a tomato-watermelon salad I had thrown together on a whim earlier that week for a cook-out. Because after the guests had left, Mister Om-Nom Sauce said “I’m going to clean up the kitchen” and I responded with, “Ok, Imma gonna stand here and eat this salad,” and predictably, the left-overs disappeared with breakfast. So clearly, more of this (delicious, healthy, refreshing, nutrient-packed) salad needed to be made. And if you have any ginormous tomatoes on hand that you don’t know what to do with, send them my way, because that is a problem that I love to have.

Tomato-watermelon salad

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Jun 012014
 

Strawberry cream scones

For the last week, through the wonder of u-pick farms, I have been awash in multiple gallons of fresh strawberries. This is in no way a terrible predicament, though I have been plagued by the question of what do I do with all of them??? I started simple by throwing them in a fruit salad and making strawberry-blueberry shortcake — pretty basic, but I figured that basic (and easy) was a good way to go when they were at peak freshness. Next came a pie (whose filling was delicious but whose crust we shall never speak of again, except to exclaim that, when given flour, butter, lard, salt, sugar, water, and vodka, I can make a kick-ass crust, but when I try to actually use a pre-made crust, utter ruin rules the day) and the decadent grown-up flavors of Jeni’s recipe for roasted strawberry buttermilk ice cream. And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t repeat my strawberry bourbon-barrel freezer jam.

But this morning I finally got to try my hand at baking with the berries. A friend of mine hooked me on scone-baking several months ago, and though I’ve been in remission recently, I decided to succumb to the bug once again. There were plenty of fancy and complicated recipes out there, but I was looking for something that was a marriage of the simple goodness of a basic cream scone with plenty of room for strawberries to shine. Once again, Smitten Kitchen came through and delivered this gem. So if you find yourself in a situation where you might need to swim Scrooge McDuck-style through a glut of strawberries and you would like to vary from the technique that my tot is demonstrating below, may I suggest that you give this marvelous scones a try?

Leah and her strawberry

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Apr 202014
 

Oatmeal chocolate-chunk cran-pecan cookies

Do you remember that chain letter than went around in the wee days of the internet? The one with the recipe for Neiman-Marcus cookies? It’s probably still circulating, but I came across it almost twenty years ago (woah — time flies!) and every bloody time I walk into a L’Aroma Bakery in Anchorage I think of that email. You see, I’m difficult to impress when it comes to bakery cookies. Most are too huge and way over-baked. Plus, in what is likely a cost-cutting measure, the cookies are usually missing something delicious and they fall flat on their faces on the palate.

But L’Aroma is different.

I’m also not usually a huge fan of oatmeal cookies, but their version — which uses cranberries instead of the archetypal raisin — will sucker-punch you with their sheer deliciousness and you won’t even mind.

So, the point is that many of us have a list of “I want this recipe for my very own” from our various favorite haunts. L’Aroma’s oat-cran cookie is definitely on the short list. (Oh, the other stuff on the short list? The triple-berry scones from — of course — L’Aroma* and the chocolate-chip cookies from A Sweet Affair in Walnut Creek, CA.) Would I pay $250 for the recipe? Well, given that The Hubs and I are prone to taking foodcations to Anchorage every year and we certainly spend more than that on just getting there, it doesn’t seem unreasonable. And since we can’t go this summer (which is killing me), maybe I should just cajole them into selling their recipe instead — it would be cheaper than a trip up there.

Failing that, I have this recipe. No, it’s not exactly the same as my L’Aroma favorite since there are pecans and chocolate and the flavor is a bit different, but these cookies are almost as good. But let me tell you, this is almost the recipe That Never Was. For some reason, I had to do battle with these cookies FIVE TIMES before I finally got the better of them. I referred to one of my failures — attempting to make brown sugar at home — already, but the other failures generally had to do with forgetting how to read a measuring cup and over-baking (which really surprised me, given that these sorts of errors don’t usually happen in Cook’s Illustrated recipes, especially when they have an admonishment that says “Do not over-bake!”). But I have emerged on the cookie gauntlet successful, after learning to stock my freaking kitchen with the right kind of sugar, rembmering that fluid ounces and tablespoons are NOT the same thing, and pulling out every trick I know to maximize a cookie’s chew. Now that I’ve done the behind-the-scenes work, I implore thee: go out and bake these too!

* When we were last in Anchorage last summer, The Hubs and I pulled off The Great Scone Heist, in which we hit every singe location in the city that sold the scones and bought them out so we could freeze them and take them home with us. If you understand how quickly each morning the residents and tourists buy out those scones, you’ll be impressed by our feat. Also — and this is a total digression here — whenever I go to the Kaladi Brothers Coffee (Alaska’s far-superior answer to Starbucks) in Seattle, I’m always slightly disappointed that they don’t carry L’Aroma pastries like their more northerly locations do.

Click for the recipe →

Jul 072013
 
Strawberry bourbon-barrel freezer jam

Strawberry bourbon-barrel freezer jam

A glut of fresh fruit is one of the best things about summer, wouldn’t you agree? Last week I found myself in a situation where I came back from the farmers’ market with strawberries so ripe that you could smell them from five yards away (how can anyone resist such a siren’s song?) only to discover that I still had some left-over from the previous week’s excursion. So I had a lot of strawberries — certainly great for just eating out of hand — but I decided that I wanted to try something I had never done before and make some jam.

Not having, well, any canning equipment except some stray mis-matched Mason jars, I decided to go the easy route for my first foray and settled on freezer jam. I took some inspiration from a jar of freezer jam a friend gave me when I lived in Alaska, from the Freezerves at Snow City Cafe that were so sublime, I’d always order extra toast (and then would get all sneaky stealing jars of the stuff from other tables if they had the flavor I was coveting), and from opening the pantry and seeing the container of bourbon-barrel smoked sugar sitting just so atop the regular sugar canister when gathering supplies for jam-making.

And let me tell you, having enjoyed the fruits of this labor so much, that I’m hoping that the whole “really good fruit + booze = om nom sauce” equation holds true for other tasties and spirits too. I couldn’t help myself and already proved that cherry-brandy is a delicious combination, but how about others? Nectarines + white wine? Blackberries + rum? Raspberries + kahlua? The possibilities are endless and it’s so easy to whip up a batch of this stuff that I really have no excuse not to!

Cherry-brandy freezer jam

Cherry-brandy freezer jam

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Jun 232013
 

Cherry pie!

Living in western Washington state (as I did in my late teens), there are certain things that one begins to take for granted. Yes, the weather will be oppressive for fully three-quarters of the year. Yes, you’re living under the ever-present threat of volcano eruptions. Yes, the coffee is ubiquitous and awesome. Ditto the beer. (They’re called coping mechanisms.) Yes, the seafood department will be larger and better-stocked than the meat department. (This is awesome.) But by far, one of the best things that you start to take for granted around there is the summer fruit.

I have memories of midnight runs, galloping past strawberry fields that I couldn’t see, but could smell. I have memories of picking up flats upon flats of freshly-picked berries from local farms on my way home from swim practice. And yes, I have memories of the splat-pattern they made on the dash and windshield when I had to slam on the brakes. But perhaps most of all, I remember the pies: oh, the pies. Blueberry & raspberry, strawberry, and of course, my favorite: bing cherry.

Super-dark and delicious bing cherries

It’s something I wait for all year. Around May, the too-red bings start showing up in the grocery stores. Mister Om-Nom Sauce — whose absolute favorite fruit is the cherry — starts badgering me then to buy them. But he doesn’t understand (or, more likely, care). He’s never lived in the Pacific northwest and he doesn’t know that the proper color of a bing cherry is black. These will eventually trickle in to the produce departments, but not until June (or even July), and which point I pounce. I buy pounds and pounds of them, eating them until my fingers are stained black, fighting off Mister Om-Nom Sauce so that I too can get my fill. And I also have to zealously guard the extra cherries I buy for the fresh cherry pie I will make. Look, people, I only make two (sweet) pies a year (pumpkin for Thanksgiving is the other), so this is like the main event of summer in my kitchen.

But now we live in Ohio, far far away from the Pacific northwest — farther, in fact, than I’ve lived since, well, before I moved there at 15 — and I’m starting to fret, for it is three-quarters of the way through June and there are no cherries in the grocery stores. I had initially been wondering what the heck I was going to do about the crust since butter is currently grasa non grata for me and an all-lard crust is so delicate that a lattice would be impossible (I’ve since solved this problem; see the variations section at the end of the recipe for details if you need ’em). But now I find myself with an even worse conundrum of no cherries!

(Sour) cherry pie!

I have found a modicum of solace at the local farmers’ market though: a local vendor was selling sour pie-cherries, so I promptly bought up a pie’s worth. It’s not quite the same as a bing pie, but it’ll do until the good stuff makes its way to Ohio.

I will post this nonetheless though, because surely there are those out there with a happy surfeit of bings who are looking for a recipe. I offer up photos from pies past which are doing nothing to slake my desire of this pastry and am only now beginning to understand that last summer, when I made two pies simultaneously (which required being on my feet for hours, making crusts and pitting fruit) despite being seven months pregnant, that it was a really good idea to make all those pies because the extra tastes I enjoyed then are likely to have to last me through a sadly cherry-less (and thus cheer-less) summer.

(Sour) cherry pie!

Cherry pie (albeit with sour cherries). No one has ever given me a prize for clean pie-slice extraction. True story.

Click for the recipe →

May 262013
 

Banana-pecan oat pancakes with maple syrup

It’s been an interesting week here in Casa de Om-nom Sauce. I had finally gotten the hang of this whole dairy-free thing and we had seen real improvement in The Babe’s symptoms. Things still seemed off though, so I decided, for kicks, to eliminate soy too to see if that helped, since a decent chunk of babies who are allergic to dairy also have issues with the omnipresent legume (and the only advice my kid’s doctor gave me was to wean and try a formula that is like $100 a can). It turns out that while eliminating dairy was not too tricky, soy is a different beast. Soy, it turns out, is in everything (thanks a lot, poorly-targeted far-subsidies). While this is not a big deal at all at home because we make everything from scratch and thus bypass soy additives, dining out is a different matter. I could eat out at restaurants I trust with dairy-elimination, but eating out with soy? Ridiculous and bordering on impossible, unless you have a really good server who is willing to interrogate the kitchen staff. Luckily, I have a fabulous relationship with the people at Olive, an Urban Dive, and I trust them and they’re willing to work with me (to the point that yesterday they joked about making up a special menu just for me) so The Hubs and I can still enjoy our weekly brunch date. But I digress.

So one of the huge bummers of populating elimination-diet-land is that breakfast options are severely limited. I started really missing pancakes, waffles, and crepes, but knew myself well enough to know that if I just tried to make simple substitutions, the recipes wouldn’t work as well and I would feel deprived. (See: vegan cheese. Yes, I miss cheese horribly but I don’t eat the fake stuff because I would be very disappointed in it and would feel even more deprived.) There was only one thing for it: I was going to have to make something up.

Banana-pecan oat pancakes

Going into my kitchen experiments, I knew that without buttermilk, that ethereally light texture would elude me. So I decided to forget everything about traditional pancake recipes and employed a few tricks I’ve used before. A friend of mine who eschewed gluten made pancakes using homemade oat-flour. Intriguing: let’s give that a try. I remembered that I had once made pancakes with mashed-up bananas and loved the result, so I put that into the bag of tricks. I knew I’d be using almond-milk instead of dairy, and in my experience it doesn’t “sour” well when you add lemon juice, so I decided to skip an acidic ingredient and use baking powder instead of baking soda. And I love toasted pecans, so I decided for kicks to add them to the oat-flour. Before I knew it, I was Frankensteining together my first batch, expecting a learning experience (code for disaster), but I ended up with something not only edible, but eminently delicious! Yes, I have tweaked the original formula that I basically made up on that first Saturday morning, but this is very, very similar to my beginning experiment. The results are not only something that I love to eat, but are food that people who can eat normal dairy-laden pancakes also enjoy — and I hope you do too!

Banana-pecan oat pancakes with almond butter

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Apr 212013
 

Ginger-stout (little) cakes

Yes, I have posted a gingerbread recipe on here before. But by the time you try this for yourself, I’m sure that you’ll forgive me for the quasi-repeat, especially once you realize that the similarities between this gingerbread and that gingerbread stop with the name.

The recipe that I’ve posted before (from my grandmother) is a wonderful treat that is pleasant all-around, with a delicious, mild, warm spice flavor and a soft, crumbly texture. But this cake? This cake will sucker-punch you if you’re not paying attention. And that’s a good thing. It’s chewy, it’s boldly flavored, and there is a completely nil chance of this cake lasting the night when you serve it to friends.

The big difference is that this cake includes two over-the-top (in the flavor department) ingredients: ginger (obviously) — and lots of it, both fresh and ground — and stout beer (not so obvious). You combine these power-houses with a uncommonly vigorous mixing method (for cakes, anyway) and you have a fool-proof crowd-pleaser.

Ginger-stout (little) cakes

I first came across this recipe just before St. Patrick’s Day this year and was simultaneously excited by 1) the beer content and 2) the non-dairy-ness of it all. (Do you know how insanely difficult it is to find a dessert recipe that is dairy-free without modifications?) This immediately shot to the top of the recipe-queue and found its way to the table on March 17th. It also disappeared from the table that same night, and that had absolutely nothing to do with impaired judgment: it was just that good.

I made it yet again when Mrs. Cheeseburger in Glacial Ice came to visit this month. There being only two of us (and fearing that an entire cake would disappear between us if we didn’t force the cake into some easily-put-away-able/-freezeable portions), we made it in standard-size muffin-tins. And let me tell you, if you’re the type of person who always hoards the corner pieces in a tray of brownies, this method is for you. (But if you eschew chewiness, fear not: the cake-pan method has plenty of love for you.)

I suppose you could sweeten it a bit with a glaze or icing, but in my opinion, that would really reign in the ginger, and what would be the point of that? If that’s your goal, then you should really just make a different recipe entirely, because this stuff? It’s delicious, it’s ginger-tastic, and it is not the eensiest bit apologetic about it.

Ginger-stout (little) cakes

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Mar 242013
 

Browned-butter cookies!

The quest for the ultimate chocolate-chip cookie is a bit of a thing for people like myself. Sure, you could go with the back-of-the-chocolate-chip-bag one, but while there’s nothing wrong with it per se, there’s nothing special about it. And even though the chocolate-chip cookie is the standard, that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. It appears that others agree, so a zillion recipes and versions abound, which leaves you with a conundrum: how do you find the best? And what are your criteria for the best? Some people like chewy cookies, some like crispy, some like super-sweet, others like excessively-chocolatey. And some weirdos even like nuts in them. And I certainly have more than one recipe that I adore. The point is: if you can think of a cookie characteristic, you can find someone who thinks that it’s absolutely necessary and a recipe that corresponds to that criterion.

Luckily, this recipe can please just about everyone.

Chewy in the center, a bit crisp on the edges, warm and gooey flavors of toffee throughout (and yes, you weirdos can add nuts if you please), this cookie is simply made of magic. The secret is in the browned butter and extra egg yolk, and the seemingly-fussy mixing-method gives results unlike any I’ve ever seen before. And in theory, these cookies are perhaps even better the next day, but really, do you think they’re likely to survive that long?

Browned-butter cookies!

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Mar 082013
 

Irish-American soda bread

This time of year, Irish soda breads start popping up in bakeries everywhere. They are either dry and chalky or delicious and decadent, in which case they obviously contain relatively expensive ingredients, which is pretty improbable in a bread ostensibly born of frugality at the hands of Irish potato farmers. More irritating to me, however, is the fact that most of the loaves you find in bakeries are obviously yeasted, which, I mean, come on, really? It’s soda bread, as in baking soda. Harumph.

So while this recipe is clearly not authentic (why hello there, butter and sugar and eggs! Fancy meeting you here!), at least it makes no pretenses about what it is. It’s not a loaf of yeast bread that has been formed into a boule and slashed (slashed! Just try doing that to a soda bread batter!), and the recipe helpfully includes the descriptor “American,” cluing you into the fact that peasant food it’s not. Authentic it may not be, but honest it surely is.

Irish-American soda bread

Because of that, I like to think that this is a bread that my maternal grandmother would approve of. She was 100% Irish and took delight in her heritage. When I think of the time spent in her house when I was young, the Irish proverbs are one of the first-and-foremost elements in the settings of those memories. So when my Mom was visiting me over St Patrick’s Day in 2008, we decided to honor Muggsy and try several new recipes for the holiday. The results had highs and lows: we swore off ever again making pistachio cookies that had instant pudding in them (they had a really unpleasant mouth-feel) but this recipe became an instant favorite. I always make it along with my corned beef and cabbage and serve it for dessert. The left-overs make an excellent breakfast bread. So, from my Irish family to yours (whether you’re Irish or not), I hope you enjoy this bread and that it makes you feel a little greener this St Paddy’s Day!

(Note: I had been preparing to make this recipe in just a few days’ time when I learned that I’d have to cut out dairy for my daughter’s sake. I was a bit devastated because I’ve literally been looking forward to this bread for months, but not being one to slink away with my tail between my legs, I resolved to adapt it for my new dietary restrictions. I admit that I was skeptical going into the mixing and baking but was very pleasantly surprised when I finally tasted it. It’s a very close facsimile of the original and far exceeded my expectations. If you’re sensitive to dairy, please do give the dairy-free version at the end of the recipe a try and let me know how you like it.)

Irish-American soda bread

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Feb 172013
 

Mimi's waffles

If there’s one thing that every kid needs, it’s a partner in crime. Growing up, I felt as though my Dad’s step-mother was that person. We always delighted in each other’s company and getting to spend time with her was simultaneously a treat and an adventure because she totally cashed in on Grandmother’s Privilege and spoiled us rotten.

There was a comforting ritual that came with visiting her house overnight: I (and sometimes my brother too, but sometimes not) would get dropped off. I’d go visit the stuffed buzzard in my grandfather’s study, then I’d go play Candy Land with Mimi, and before bed she would conspiratorially make me a bowl of bananas and whipped cream. When I’d awake in the morning, the crown jewel of my visit would be waiting for me: golden, crisp, delicious, I-never-got-these-at-home waffles. With real butter, no less — something I only ever saw at her house, since I grew up in the 80’s when everyone (excepting Mimi, of course) thought that margarine was better for you.

Along with the food, of course, there are other memories: the way Mimi and I would talk over those contraband goodies she’d make for me every visit, the way we were always so excited to see each other, the way she would giggle when something I would say just plainly tickled her pink. The way she could listen to you like you were the only person on the planet that mattered. I don’t remember a ton of specific conversations, but like my maternal grandmother, I remember the way she made me feel, which as my cousin Lindsay pointed out, is the best legacy you can leave behind. She was a great partner in crime for a kid to have growing up.

And so, when she died last November, I was very sad to realize that my own daughter wouldn’t get to know her as I remembered her. So I clung to what I could: I claimed that tattered old box of Candy Land, the novel we all considered integral to her personality, and this recipe, which I got from her on a phone call twenty years ago and which I’ve been making ever since, and I’ll hold fast to the hope that these things can help culture the same things for Leah as they did for me: a sense of warmth, safety, love, and compatriotism that will last her a lifetime.

Mimi's waffles

Click for the recipe →

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